Impacted Crop

The crop is part of the oesophagus (food pipe) at the base of the neck and is the first stage of digestion for a chicken, it contains food, water and grit (used for digestion).  When full, the crop is tennis ball sized. You can sometimes feel the contents of the crop when handling chickens and it can certainly be seen immediately after a chicken has been eating.

An impacted crop is caused by a blockage in the crop. This can be caused by tough stems of woody grass or other things that get stuck such as bailing twine that cannot pass from the crop down into the proventriculus.

The crop feels full and a little bit like dough and will not clear. Check first thing in the morning before the bird has had a chance to eat to see if the crop has emptied overnight.

Species Affected: Mainly chickens

Other Names: Blocked crop, pendulous crop (when the size causes the crop to hang / swing).

Symptoms: Crop does not empty (it should empty overnight), feels like dough.

Causes: Usually tough strands of long grass but can be anything that’s blocking the crop.

Prevention: Keep grass in grazing areas cut short, ensure there are no other items that could be picked up and eaten by mistake.

Treatment – Mild Cases: An impacted crop can be emptied if it is unlikely to clear, but vets usually advise putting the bird onto water for 24 to 48 hours in mild cases before gradually re-introducing their food.

Treatment – Serious Cases: The contents of the crop can be softened before turning the bird upside down and massaging the crop for a few seconds at a time to empty the crop. There is a risk of the bird choking so you must allow the bird a chance to catch its breath in between. This doesn’t always work (you can’t always completely empty the crop) so if you are in any way unsure, it is better to allow a vet to perform a procedure to cut the crop open and empty it under a local anaesthetic.

Chickens crops look big when full (up to tennis ball size). It is normal for the crop to fill like this but it should empty. If in doubt, check the crop has emptied in the morning before a bird has eaten.

Emptying the crop

As already mentioned above, there is a risk of the bird choking when emptying the crop so if you are unsure about this, it is best left to your veterinary surgeon.

Emptying a chicken’s crop is straightforward but an advanced technique that can be very stressful for a chicken.

Emptying a chicken’s crop is a two person job, you will need to turn the bird upside down to empty the crop through the beak.

First, pour either Liquid Paraffin or warm water with a couple of teaspoons of Olive Oil down the throat and massage the crop for 5 minutes. Whilst holding the bird firmly, turn the bird upside down and massage the contents out through the beak for a short while 5 seconds is usually long enough – before turning the bird back up the right way to breathe.

Similar Conditions

There are other conditions which can produce similar signs:

  • Pendulous Crop where there has been a blockage in the crop and the muscles have stretched causing the crop to become pendulous.
  • Sour Crop which is caused by a yeast in the crop and recognised by a putrid smell coming from the beak.

Tip: The tags under the related articles below allow you to view other articles tagged with those symptoms.

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Tim Daniels

Tim is the founder of the poultrykeeper website and lives in Bedfordshire, UK. He keeps Light Sussex large fowl, Silkie bantams and hybrid layers for eggs, Abacot Ranger ducks, Brecon Buff geese and some quail.

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